SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) today filed a complaint against Alpine Helicopter Service, Inc. (Alpine) and its pilots for multiple alleged incidents of pesticide drift that endangered the health and safety of nearby communities. Since at least 2013, Alpine has repeatedly engaged in aerial pesticide applications that unlawfully drifted to and contaminated nontarget property, including an incident last year where pesticides applied to a pumpkin field allegedly drifted away from the intended target and onto a soccer field where young players and their families were present. In today’s complaint, Attorney General Becerra and DPR seek civil penalties and injunctive relief from Alpine for alleged violations of the Food and Agricultural Code, Health and Safety Code, and California's Unfair Competition Law.
“Time and time again, Alpine Helicopter Service and its pilots knowingly endangered the health and safety of innocent communities during the aerial application of hazardous pesticides,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Who would choose to run their business with such callous disregard for the safety of our children and families nearby? Our health and safety laws are serious business. So, too, should be the consequences for violating them.”
“All pesticide applicators must follow the rules,” said DPR Assistant Director Ken Everett. “California’s agricultural commissioners have found Alpine in violation of multiple pesticide laws over the years, and today’s action demonstrates DPR’s seriousness to protecting California’s people and the environment.”
Pesticide drift is prohibited under Food and Agricultural Code section 12972, which provides that “the use of any pesticide by any person shall be in such a manner as to prevent substantial drift to nontarget areas.” Alpine has a long history of noncompliance with pesticide drift prohibitions and has been repeatedly investigated since 2013 for applying pesticides in situations where there was a reasonable possibility of contamination to individuals, as well as to nontarget crops, animals, and other public and private property. Despite earlier administrative fines, Alpine allegedly continued to apply pesticides in a careless manner.
In today's complaint, Attorney General Becerra and DPR seek penalties for three alleged drift incidents – two near the San Joaquin County Regional Sports Complex and a third near Isleton. In September 2019, pesticides from two aerial applications drifted onto a sports complex in Stockton that serves disadvantaged communities that already experience disproportionate exposure to environmental pollution. In one instance, children and their families were present at the sports complex playing soccer at the time of pesticide application. In a third incident, in July 2020, pesticides from an aerial application drifted onto a woman standing in her backyard in Isleton in Sacramento County.
The defendants are Alpine; Joel Dozhier, Alpine’s owner and licensed qualified applicator; and William C. Heppe II and Charles F. Heppe, licensed pilots for Alpine.
People who are applying pesticides have the primary responsibility for drift management and must take all reasonable precautions. Pesticide drift is illegal if the applicator did not follow the instructions on the label or other requirements, or if the drift has the potential to cause harm to humans or their property. Anyone who suspects that pesticide drift has occurred should contact their county agricultural commissioner and call 911 for help if someone becomes ill. More information can be found here.
A copy of the complaint can be found here.